April 2021


Benjamin McMillan is a recent graduate of the graphic design department at ArtEZ Arnhem, the Netherlands. His current work investigates the intersection between machine-minds and design.


Full Auto Foundry


How would it be to design in a way where you don't have to plan far in advance? Could you design like you text, for example?


Full Auto Foundry explores the role of automation and non-human entities in the field of type design and letterforms. The project can be split into two parts and processes: physical and digital automation.

The physical section comes first. Participants are given a series of tools in the form of stencils, pen and paper, and instructions to generate letterforms and characters. With this they are tasked with drawing letters, but they must do so without predetermining the character they want to make, the characters will form over time. As the stencils already define the shapes that will make up the letters, this is in a sense partially automated. The outcomes of this process vary in beauty and ugliness, smoothness and roughness, but it is the process of production that is important not the final outcomes, at least for now.

The sketches then go through the second part of the project, which is digital automation without any human interaction. In order, the following phases all happen automatically. Sketches are scanned, vectorized, and imported into FontForge (an open-source type editing application). Each letter is then assigned the correct Unicode value. After this they are exported as both a .TTF and a .WOFF format typeface, and finally uploaded to the Foundry website where the participants can view and download the typeface that was produced from their sketches. Due to the project's process of automation the design and generation of a new typeface can be minimized to five minutes instead of hours, weeks, months or years – all without a single mouse click.

The Rs of Research & Realities are the results of the Full Auto Foundry process. One is the 'raw input' and the other the result of the machine.

McMillan is also the co-founder of TypeClub 530, a type design initiative that he has run since 2018. TypeClub 530 holds weekly workshops and talks that focus on experimental ways of producing type and lettering. Over the last three years the initiative has run workshops and participated in talks around the world, including Amsterdam, Karlsruhe and Seoul.

A new side project is BAD TYPE. Collaborating with fellow graduate Dong Bin Han, it is an exploration into the history and digital culture of ASCII art and how it can be used today within typography and type design to generate new forms of experimental media.

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This article appeared in DAM78. Order your personal copy.